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December 13th, 2013
09:30 AM ET

Call Jesus (or Santa) white? Expect a big fight

Opinion by Edward J. Blum, special to CNN

(CNN) - Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly sparked outrage this week by insisting that Jesus and Santa Claus are both white, saying it's "ridiculous" to argue that depicting Christ and St. Nick as Caucasian is "racist."

"And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white," Kelly said, "but this person is arguing that we should also have a black Santa."

Kelly was responding to an article in Slate that said St. Nick needs a makeover from fat, old white guy to something less "melanin-deficient."

The Fox News host would have none of it.

"Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change," Kelly said. "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact. As is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy, in the story, and change Santa from white to black?"

Arguing about St. Nick, who was originally Greek before Currier & Ives got their hands on him, is one thing. But as for Jesus, people have been arguing about his skin color since the earliest days of American history. You might even call it an American tradition.

What's new about this latest brouhaha is how swiftly Kelly’s remarks were attacked. Thousands of people have rebuked her through blogs, articles, Twitter posts and Facebook updates.

Comedian Jon Stewart accused Kelly of "going full Christmas nog."

“And who are you actually talking to?" Stewart said on "The Daily Show." "Children who are sophisticated enough to be watching a news channel at 10 o’clock at night, yet innocent enough to still believe Santa Claus is real — yet racist enough to be freaked out if he isn’t white?”

It seems that now, if you want to call Christ — or even Santa — white, you should expect a fierce fight.

The immediate and widespread rebuttal showcases how much America has changed over the past few decades. The nation not only has a black president, but also has refused to endorse the Christian savior as white.

Since the earliest days of America, Jesus was thought of as a white man.

When white Protestant missionaries brought Bibles and whitened images of Jesus to Native Americans, at least a few mocked what they saw.

Taking the imagery seriously, the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh asked future President William Henry Harrison, “How can we have confidence in the white people? When Jesus Christ came upon the earth you kill’d and nail’d him on a cross.”

It was not until around 1900 that a group of white Americans explicitly claimed Jesus was white.

Concerned that large numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, especially Jewish immigrants, were “polluting” the nation, anti-immigrant spokesmen like attorney Madison Grant asserted the whiteness of Jesus to justify calls for exclusionary legislation.

READ MORE: From science and computers, a new face of Jesus

Making Jesus white was a means to distance him from Judaism.

“In depicting the crucifixion no artist hesitates to make the two thieves brunet in contrast to the blond Savior,” Grant wrote in his xenophobic best-seller "The Passing of the Great Race."

“This is something more than a convention,” Grant continued, and suggested that Jesus had “Nordic, possibly Greek, physical and moral attributes.”

Even Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that Jesus was white, after being asked why God created Jesus as a white man.

King responded that the color of Christ’s skin didn’t matter. Jesus would have been just as important “if His skin had been black.” He “is no less significant because His skin was white.”

READ MORE: Turkish town cashes in on Saint Nick legacy

Challenges to Christ’s whiteness have a long history, too.

Famed evangelist Billy Graham preached in the 1950s, and then wrote emphatically in his autobiography "Just As I Am," that, “Jesus was not a white man.”

But Graham was far from the first American to contradict the whiteness of Jesus. That honor goes to Methodist and Pequot Indian William Apess.

In 1833, he wrote to white Christians, “You know as well as I that you are not indebted to a principle beneath a white skin for your religious services but to a colored one.”

Almost 100 years later, the Jamaican born, “back-to-Africa” spokesman Marcus Garvey told his followers, “Never admit that Jesus Christ was a white man, otherwise he could not be the Son of God and God to redeem all mankind. Jesus Christ had the blood of all races in his veins.”

In our age, the color of Christ has become both politically dangerous and the butt of jokes.

In 2008, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s words “God damn America” and “Jesus was a poor black boy” almost derailed then-Sen. Barack Obama from winning the Democratic primary.

Now, Kelly bears the brunt of attacks and, in no surprise, was pilloried by comedians like Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Few Americans went on public record against King when he asserted Jesus had white skin in the 1950s. Today, thousands upon thousands from virtually every race and tribe of Americans have taken Kelly’s words seriously and seriously disdained them.

All the chatter about Jesus being white (or not) shows how much America has changed. There used to be “whites’ only” restaurants and schoolrooms. Now, even Jesus cannot be called white without repercussions.

What the debate hides, however, is what Jesus of the Bible actually did and how he related to people.

The gospels are full of discussions about Jesus and bodies. He healed the blind and those who suffered from disease. He touched and was touched by the sick. His body was pierced by thorns, a spear and nails. And he died.

READ MORE: What all those Jesus jokes tell us

The phenotype of Jesus was never an issue in the Bible. Neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke, nor John mentioned Christ’s skin tone or hair color. None called him white or black or red or brown.

Obsessions about race are obsessions of our age, not the biblical one. When asked what mattered most, Jesus did not say his skin tone or body shape. He instructed his followers to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

Maybe this Christmas season, we can reflect not so much on whether or not Jesus was white and instead consider what it meant for him to be called the “light” of the world.

Edward J. Blum is the co-author of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. He can be followed on Twitter @edwardjblum. The views expressed in this column belong to Blum alone.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Art • Belief • Bible • Billy Graham • Black issues • Christianity • Discrimination • Faith • God • Jesus • News media • Opinion • Persecution • Prejudice • Race • United States

soundoff (7,485 Responses)
  1. Rick Morrison

    Being a Fox news anchor, I seriously doubt she has ever actually encountered a black man..............unless you count the fella at the car wash, she once told me!

    December 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  2. Wynn Silence

    Jesus was a Jew all the jews I know are white. Many of the Jews can follow their roots back to Moses.
    Jesus was white get over it CNN.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • dreamhunk

      White Jews are indo europe NOT ancient hebrews
      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiGo-ybL-7E&w=640&h=390]

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131008112539.htm

      December 13, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
    • Np2131

      Really, all the Jews you know are white? I guess you never met a sephardic jew, who rresent alf the world's jewish population. This group's ancestry traces back to the middle east and North Africa and have olive to dark complexions and are in no way caucasion. With that said, the chances that Jesus was white are roughly zero. He was born in what is now the West bank of people who were also from Judea. He was assuredly the same complexion as, I don't know, lets say Osama Bin Laden. Sorry Meg and the rest of your myopic racist friends at Fox, but Jesus was not white.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Paul

      Wong, he was a dead ringer for Sammy Davis Jr.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Danny

      Yes, while most modern day Jews may be classified as "white" based solely on pigmentation, Jewish people of the time were much closer in appearance to modern day middle easterns. Unlike many Jewish people today, Jesus did not come from Russia, Poland, or other countries in the region that many of todays Jews can trace their lineage back to. Read a book.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Name*Rayo100

      Wynn, you are an idiot. Pick up a book about geography and the middle eastern people someday. Sorry to busrt your racist bubble but Jesus was definitely NOT white.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  3. dreamhunk

    black Jesus More proof

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3G6D8itOfBs&w=640&h=390]
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5JnnWvgRjg&w=640&h=390]
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxWcqojtk2o&w=640&h=390]

    December 13, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  4. FT

    ofcourse he didn't look anything like those bearded fair haired depictions of his. he was a palestinian. but every culture depicts their gods like them and the US inherited their jesus from western europe.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  5. taylorallen

    There was a man names st nicolas and he was white.

    Jesus was a Jew and they are normallly considered white.

    end of discussion

    December 13, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Right

      You are an idiot. End of discussion.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • Dave

      Being a Jew does not mean he was white. Judism is a religion not an ethnicity. If Jesus even did exist, he was middle-eastern and most likely olive skinned. Being that he was probably outdoors most of his life, probably dark as well.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
      • mshore

        He was probably Bronzed from being in the sun and tan.

        December 13, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  6. mshore

    coming from the region in the world were Jesus was from he would have been Bronzed.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  7. Timus

    LOL!! Of course Fox News wouldn't like the idea of a Middle Eastern Jesus!! Oh well Meagan!!

    December 13, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  8. claudius1964

    In the spiritual sense, he can be whatever color you want him to be.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  9. ed

    I would appreciate the writers of this article getting their facts right. St. Nicholas was of Turkish descent. At the time of his birth most of the Turkish region was controlled by the Greeks. It is like saying Nelson Mandela is "British" because he was born in a British colony. Also labeling him Greek leaves the reader to believe he was "white". Most of the people of Turkey from the region he comes from have a olive skin color. Actually Megan Kelly was wrong on 2 fronts. If that was pointed out it would have given more credence to the article.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • Nick Lekatis

      St. Nicholas was of Turkish descent??? Get real! The Turks didn't conquer modern-day Turkey until the 14th century. Duh! That region was Greek–in race, religion, culture...Get your facts straight, bozo.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  10. Jesus Christ Son of God

    I'm white? I didn't even know I existed.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  11. Deirdre

    Jesus wasn't shiny white but that doesn't mean he was Black. We need a broader definition of race that includes more than three variants and that respects the vast differentiation in human beings. People still cling to a narrow definition of race in America that is archaic.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • John

      Black, brown, whatever - he was certainly a man "of color."

      December 13, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  12. Jon

    Grow up people. Much like Santa, Jesus is myth http://youtu.be/Kla-BcN8u8Q

    December 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  13. Rob Killian

    Why has FOX not fired this 'blonde' yet?

    December 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

      Duh??? Blonde? Cute? Knockers? THAT'S why she hasn't been fired. She wasn't hired for her brains.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • taylorallen

      Because they like her ratings which by the way are almost 4x higher than anyone on CNN

      December 13, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • John

      You answered your own question: because she's blonde. Look at all their bubble-headed, blue-eyed "correspondents." The all fit this mold. And, as ludicrous as it seems, she's probably the most intelligent of the stable of babes.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Fox News thinks she is the victim, that she is being unfairly attacked.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  14. Cain Lawrence

    It would be quite foolish for anyone to claim that Jesus is white/Caucasian when he was living in the Middle East.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

      And yet people are foolish, and make such claims. Silly people.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • JTH

      A Middle Eastern Jewish man, probably not much different from most natives of that area. Definitely not European.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  15. SantaClaus&JesusWHITE

    You know this Anti-Racist code word for Anti-White stops now.. Santa Claus was white an Jesus Christ was White.. If you got a problem with that then you are the racist ! An if you are still angry as hell remember it could be worse you could be white ? HA HA ! WPWW

    December 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Cain Lawrence

      Santa Claus is not real – he's anything that children want him to be. And Jesus was living in a Middle Eastern region, when it was invaded by the Romans. He is not Caucasian.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  16. Verified?

    Dumb Blonde also said Jesus' existence is verifyable.

    First Christian mention of Jesus: At least a decade after the supposed death.

    First non-Christian reference: Over 80 years later, and it's just a comment on what Christians were claiming.

    In Jesus' lifetime? Not a shred.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
  17. Anthony Crispino

    I don't know about Jesus, but like judge Scalia said, Satan is a real dude walkin' around somewheres. In fact, my wife's groin doctor knows someone who saw him walking around over in Elizabeth and he said he looked like a regular white dude. Of course he could make himself look like whatever.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • The Dude

      Hey, I ain't Satan.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  18. Vinny

    Megyn Kelly proves more & more just how much of an ignorant c-t she is each day.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
  19. Ethan

    Wasn't Jesus Jewish? So wouldn't that make him Mediterranean? So not African skin and not Scandinavian skin right? Think me dumb but I have no idea what anyone is even upset about. But you know, when I fill out my government forms and that ask about ethnicity, All I can be is Caucasian, African, Hispanic, or Native American/Pacific Islander. So Jesus was Caucasian (Hebrew) but no White correct? Is that the conclusion here?

    December 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Vinny

      He was an Aramaic/Essean Jew. Middle Eastern. Not "white". Then again, there are Mexicans and Cubans who look "white"...so perhaps all the labels are meaningless. Unless you're Asian or Black...its a gray area.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  20. kevin

    OK, Met me try to get your story straight. This god person ...thing was not white or black? He/she wasn't a man.......or a woman? The creator of ALL was not straight ,or gay?????? I think you all have been praying to Michael Jackson.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.